In the Rearview

West Mesa robberies, local linguist, Taos firefighters honored

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As part of our weekly series, The Taos News dug into the newspaper's archives to uncover the top stories of the week from 10, 25 and 50 years ago. This week recalls a series of home invasions, a teacher honored and the founding of the Taos Volunteer Fire Department.

- 10 years ago - "More West Mesa homes ransacked, vandalized", By Chandra Johnson, Dec. 6 - 12, 2007

West Mesa resident Judy Ryan, who lived in a colony of residences called Unit 9, figured she would have died if she had been home the night her house was broken into in November. Her residence was one of four broken into and vandalized during a slate of home invasions. Ryan had been house sitting for a friend in Questa when the vandals raided her home seven miles west of the Río Grande Gorge.

According to the story, "an unknown number of people used a large-caliber rifle to shoot their way into Ryan's home through the back picture window. Once inside they emptied drawers, destroyed electronics and stole weapons as they made their way through the house. They then shot out a southern window to exit the house."

Ryan estimated the vandals caused about $5,000 in damage. But most worrying, they apparently broke in mid-morning in broad daylight. "If I had been home, I would either be dead or have gone out with my gun," Ryan told the reporter at the time. "I moved out there about 10 years ago and it's just been me and the critters. It's bliss, but this is the payment, I guess."

Other neighbors called the home invasions "vicious," but most refused to speak publicly for fear of retaliation. State police were investigating the cases.

- 25 years ago - "The best!", By Mike Stauffer, Dec. 10, 1992

"I'm floating on cloud nine," said Taos master linguist Larry Torres in 1992 after he was slected the top language teacher in the United States at the Walt Disney American Teacher Awards.

The show was broadcast live, allowing Torres' friends and family in Northern New Mexico to watch as he was honored. Torres was accompanied at the awards ceremony by his parents Fermin and Irene Torres of Arroyo Seco and other members of his family.

Torres, who is now certified in 14 languages and went on to join the faculty of the University of New Mexico - Taos branch, was then the head of the language department at Taos High School. Torres, according to the article, "won praise for his teaching style, is relationship with his students and the depth of knowledge and enthusiasm he brings to the classroom."

Torres was honored this year as one of The Taos News Unsung Heroes.

- 50 years ago - "The TVFD ... made up of men who do this as a sideline", Staff report, Dec. 7, 1967

In 1933, after a fire wiped out the north side of the Taos Plaza and another on Dec. 15 that year destroyed the Don Fernándo Hotel, a group of Taoseños organized into the Taos Volunteer Fire Department. Three decades later a full page article with photos of the volunteers ran in The Taos News, acknowledging the hard work of the 32 active firemen and 40 on-call members who worked extra hours at all times of the day and night to keep flames at bay.

By 1952, Taos had earned a "seventh class" fire underwriters rating, helping reduce Taos property owner insurance rates. That made the town one of only three communities in the United States with such a low fire rating and an all-volunteer fire department. At the time of the article, Brook Cottam was the chief and Clark Funk was assistant chief.

Eventually the town of Taos hired some full-time staff firefighters but volunteers continued to be the stalwart back ups. Today the town has five staff firefighters and at least 16 active volunteer firefighters. The chief is Leroy Gonzales.

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